It’s one-half of that time of year again, when American Horror Story celebrates the holiday closest to its heart: Halloween. The annual two-parter usually contains some of the weirdest ideas Ryan Murphy and Brad Fulchuk have up their dungeon master sleeves, though I feel tonight was more of a build-up to whatever mania will be upon us next week. As a standalone episode, “Edward Mordrake (Part 1)” was really just…part one-ish. Let’s start with the titular spookmeister himself.
Making his debut in the world of American Horror Story is Wes Bentley, whose ghostly Edward Mordrake was a former aristocrat who had a devilish face on the back of his head that wants him to do terrible things. (Say what?) He’s at first a ghost story told to warn freaks not to perform on Halloween, with the risk of joining his undead freak crew, but of course he’s real, and Elsa’s rehearsal performance of Lana Del Rey’s “Gods and Monsters” conjures up his physical manifestation. (Hell, that number would have drawn me from whatever grave I was in.) But it doesn’t appear to be Elsa he wants.
Mordrake’s signature green fog aura later appears to Ethel, who is troubled by the newfound knowledge that she’s dying. (The immediate head-on collision into pre-alcoholism probably doesn’t help.) He pulls her darkest secret from her, and it turns out Dell brought in a paying crowd to watch Ethel give birth to Jimmy. I will never be able to unhear Dell barking, “Hold the monster baby!” to the surrounding patrons. But Mandrake isn’t looking for someone with skeletons they’re ashamed of; he’s looking for a soul with demons to spare. So I’m guessing we’ll get to hear a few more tawdry confessions when he goes lurking around next week. And I guess we’ll also have to deal with Bentley’s back-and-forth talking to himself. Sigh.
Also joining the series this week are “Mystic” Maggie Esmerelda (Emma Roberts) and Stanley (Denis O’Hare), a couple of con artists who are looking to make some big bucks by bringing a legitimate freak specimen to the American Morbidity Museum. (I think this was going to be the plot of Ocean’s Fourteen.) Her part of the plan involves wooing Jimmy and posing as a clairvoyant at the carnival, in order to map out all of the performers, no matter how much it scares her. Stanley is supposed to show up as a savior that will save Elsa’s career, but he’s too busy trying to bang a male prostitute dressed up in a Viking costume. Are we supposed to know what was happening with Stanley’s private parts? That scene kind of weirded me out once the pants came off. (And only then?)
In this week’s killer clown news, Twisty is stalking a young girl who’s afraid of clowns, while her mother is dismissive of the whole thing. (“I swear, I’ll never understand that girl. I find clowns delightful.”) And you might think he’s going to try and take her out by the end of the episode, but Twisty is actually just interested in her brother who was trick-or-treating dressed up as a clown. Envy? It still isn’t clear what his motivations are with these children, but he’s obviously got some kind of investment in their survival.
Meanwhile, Dandy “I can be a clown, too!” Mott is infuriated that his mother would have Maid Patti LaBelle make him a Howdy Doody costume, so he turns that outfit into a clown costume. He and Maid Patti LaBelle don’t like each other in the least, so he’s probably going to try to kill her at some point. But first, he’s got better things to do, like fuck with Twisty’s kids. I wish he’d actually been able to tie his knife to that pole, only to have the kids take it from him and stab him in his moron face. I hate this dude.
Over at the freak show, Jimmy is pissed that Meep got killed, and he’s had it with everyone who doesn’t care. (Maybe that’s why he immediately swoons when Mystic Maggie arrives.) Ethel drunkenly tells Dell to be a father figure to Jimmy, without actually saying the “father” part aloud. But Jimmy is having trouble saying the right thing to anyone, having gotten into an argument with Desiree over her rough-as-a-plane-crash foreplay not getting him aroused. Dell isn’t fit to father anyone, much less someone with his erratic temper.
And then there’s the battle between Elsa and Bette-and-Dot. With the allure of Jimmy guiding her courage, Dot stands up to both Elsa and her sister, letting everyone know she won’t let a damn thing stand in her way now. (On the path to what, I’m not sure.) That dream sequence where the doctor was going to cut them apart was pretty awesome in its use of constantly changing splitscreens and viewpoints.
What will American Horror Story: Freak Show bring us in Part 2? Will the Mystic tell more people falsehoods in order to win their trust? Will Mordrake take her soul instead of one of the freaks? Will Patti LaBelle do her best Yogi Bear impression? Find out next week.
Other Thoughts Floating Beneath the Big Top
And the Emmy for Most Outstanding Woody Woodpecker Laugh Imitation in a Miniseries goes to…Patti LaBelle.
How many goddamned exhibits do you need in that museum? And how is an exhibit from a pair of thieves that you just called out going to save your museum?
“Fetal goat with the jaw of a cat sewn onto it.” If that’s not in the Cards of Humanity deck yet, somebody get on that.
So, are we to assume that Ethel’s bad health is because she never listened to her previous doctors because they didn’t respect her?
Seriously, though. The face on the back of Edward Mordrake’s head was preposterous! Not the supernatural side of it, but the fact that it looked like a CGI version of a rubber mask. Did they forgot to budget in a better looking head-face?
How guided by fame is Elsa that she doesn’t mind that the man she thinks will save her also happens to have a predetermined shape of green smoke surrounding his lower body at all times?
“At 32, when I was with Barnum…” Ethel be namedropping.
Has there ever been anything on TV stranger than Kathy Bates’ accent when her character is drunk?
Nothing made me happier in this episode than seeing Ma Petite pop out of that pumpkin.
Tonight’s best Bette and Dot moment: the bobbing for apples joke.
“I could get more satisfaction from a doorknob.” Is Desiree going to fall in love with Stanley’s Cthulhu-dong, or whatever it ends up being?
From now on, any time I’m faced with a situation that is truly sad but out of my hands, I’m going to say that it’s “all chicken heads on a casket.”
Minus the Lana Del Rey cover and the oft-used melodies, I hated all of the music cues in this episode. That screechy guitar feedback wail, combined with the “womp womp womp womp” was maddening. But it’s all chicken heads ion a casket. See how I did that?